Karla Stonesifer admitted she was quite clumsy growing up, so much that she was often compared to a baby giraffe.
Stonesifer, a Francis Scott Key senior, was adopted at 5 years old and started playing basketball when she was in eighth grade. That clumsiness subsided as Stonesifer’s flair for the sport continued to grow and it allowed her to get into her own head space to escape from school or any outside stress.
The Times Girls Basketball Player of the Year emerged for the Eagles this season, averaging 12.0 points per game and a county-best 11.4 rebounds per game. She ranked second on the team in deflections and steals, proving her versatility on both ends of the floor. Stonesifer helped lead Francis Scott Key to its first Carroll County Athletic League title since 1987 and the team’s most successful season in at least 22 years.
“I really didn’t think this would happen,” Stonesifer said. “I don’t even see myself being a leader. I just see myself playing basketball. I’m not there to impress anybody. I just love basketball and even when I didn’t play it, I would find ways to play outside … I don’t know where it came from, it just clicked with me.”
Stonesifer played on the FSK junior varsity team for two years prior to making the varsity squad as a junior. The Eagles finished 6-16 overall and garnered just two county wins last year and Stonesifer admitted she was cautious entering her senior season.
Pre-season jitters aren’t abnormal, but the Eagles were getting a new coach for the third time in as many seasons with McDaniel graduate TJ Develin.
Develin and his assistants Chuck Black and Patrick Boyd came in with a competitive philosophy and a hope to change the culture of the Eagles’ program. Develin had never coached girls before and he felt his own share of nerves prior to joining the staff. However, the team could rely on Stonesifer’s energy to give them the confidence they needed.
“We always matched her energy in games,” Develin said. “If she was upbeat and getting after it, the team followed suit and vice versa. She’s done a really good job of taking Savannah [Brooks] under her wing and she developed a good relationship with her. A lot of it has to do with playing multiple sports together and Karla was always one of the ones speaking up. She’s been a good leader for us.”
The Eagles opened the season on a six-game winning streak that included county wins against Century, Westminster and Manchester Valley. They lost to Notre Dame Prep in a holiday tournament matchup on Dec. 27, but won 11 straight games after that and defeated Liberty 53-43 on Feb. 5 to win the county title outright.
“After the third game we won, I thought ‘What the heck is happening?’” Stonesifer said. “Three in a row, that’s so weird. We just kept going and after we won three more games, I felt the pressure. I couldn’t believe this was happening and I thought, ‘This is a good team and we deserve this.’ We’ve been playing with these girls the past four years and I was close with a lot of them even when I was on JV.
“To come from nothing to this year, it’s amazing to see people outside watching us and stuff. They’re amazed by our comeback, I guess, and being in it and improving that much. We didn’t think we could do it, but it happened.”
FSK suffered county losses to Winters Mill and South Carroll in the final two weeks of the regular season, and received a first-round bye in the Class 1A West playoffs. The Eagles routed Boonsboro 68-30 in a sectional semifinal, but lost to Smithsburg in the section final on March 7.
FSK’s success shocked a lot of people who don’t usually expect a lot of success from Key, Stonesifer said.
“It woke people up,” Stonesifer said. “Coming out on top and proving ourselves to these other schools, I think it really gives, not just our program, but other sports programs confidence that these other schools aren’t just going to push us around anymore. We actually have competition and it really brings the confidence up and it puts pressure on teams coming in. I think it just pushes everybody in a positive way.”